Describe and discuss any similarities you see among the rituals of three ethnographic examples from the
course materials. Draw conclusions about the reasons for the universality of ritual in human cultures.
Rituals are part of our everyday lives and are found in different cultures around the world. They are a
patterned form of behaviour that is usually associated with some sort of symbolic value to signify one’s beliefs.
Although various rituals are performed with different purposes, upon closer examination of three ethnographic
examples, it can be said that rituals of all cultures around the world have common characteristics and are in fact,
Many cultures around the world, including the people of Bornea and the Dogon culture, manifest
various aspects of art through their rituals. In our society, tattoos are often simply a form of adornment whereas
in many other cultures, tattooing has a more powerful social and spiritual significance. They play a fundamental
role in different cultures by marking the coming of age, signifying tribal rank, and symbolizing relationships
with spirits and ancestors. The people of Bornea make use of ritual tattoos to reward men of the tribe who are
successful in head-hunting raids to depict their skill and power. Ritual tattoos were also used to recognize the
success of women in skills such as weaving, dancing or singing. Likewise, the people of the Dogon, who live in
West Africa, are known to be the connection between heaven and Earth, and their rituals involve artistic forms
of dance which reflect harmony between the human spirit, land, and surrounding animal life. The dances
involve the use of unique masks which are known to be among the world’s most respected forms of tribal art.
The design of the mask worn by the Dogon people connects the worlds of the sun and Earth through the union
that is formed between the dancer and his body. Various forms of art such as body art and dance are a
fundamental characteristic of rituals, as they are used to symbolize the importance of ritual practices.
Another similar aspect of these ethnographic rituals is the celebration through ceremonies. The Naghol
is a prominent land diving ritual that is done to bless the soil for the assurance of fertile soil for a bountiful
harvest of yam. Furthermore, it is also a ritual of the tribal society as when a young boy is ready to enter
manhood; he undergoes an initiation by performing the land diving ritual amongst his community and elders.
These rituals are seen as a ceremony amongst the people of Vanuatu – the day begins with drum beats and
festivities that start early in the morning, including a play about spirits, a village lunch, and music, followed by
the land diving. Similarly, the dances that take place in the culture of the Dogon are part of a ceremony. This
dance ceremony often lasts three days and involves various dancers representing animals, male and female
powers, and the afterworld. Ceremonies are an important characteristic of most rituals, as they bring together
the people who are performing the ritual through a form of celebration.
Lastly, these rituals are similar as they involve sacrifices, in which an offering of some sort is made prior
to the performance of a ritual. For the inhabitants of Bornea, tattooing is also seen as an initiation rite. To mark the coming-of-age, an adolescent boy is sent alone to hunt a wild boar or monkey, and upon his successful
return, he experiences a ritual in which he is tattooed a full moon and a water serpent – this itself can be seen as
a sacrifice as the young man sacrifices his safety and goes out into the wilderness for the sake of his
community. Tribe members then gather together for a sacred ritual and begin with a sacrifice to ancestor spirits,
before carrying through with the process of tattooing. These sacrifices often include killing a chicken or fowl
and spilling its blood. Likewise, the land diving ritual itself is a sacrifice of safety as well for the individual who
is performing it. Prior to the dance ceremonies, sacrifices are made to the ancestors and gods. Sacrifices are a
fundamental part of many cultural rituals, as it signifies faith and submission.
It is evident that although these rituals are performed for different reasons by different people, they all
have similar characteristics. Through the universality of ritual in human cultures, people are given structure,
order and meaning to their lives, no matter whom they are or where they’re from. Rituals allow people to put
aside their differences and come together to share their beliefs, and thus, universality is fundamental in order to
Why do anthropologists place so much emphasis on kinship systems? Explain, illustrating with
ethnographic examples from the readings.
The kinship system depicts kin relationships in a culture and the kinds of behaviour involved. It refers to
the relationships that are based on blood or marriage, which are found in all societies. Anthropologists claim
that kinship is the most important organizing principle and thus place so much emphasis on these systems,
because it determines a culture’s world view of society. Kinship determines culture’s rules of marriage, living
patterns, marriage, trading partners, family type, and many other fundamental aspects of a culture.
Anthropologists have studied various societies, in which kinship activities play an important role. Take for
example the issue of marriage which is affected greatly by kinship.
Fraternal polyandry – in which several brothers share one wife – is one of the world’s rarest forms of
marriage. However, in Tibetan society, it is far from uncommon and has been practiced for a very long time.
For many Tibetans, the act of two or more brothers jointly marrying one wife is seen as an ideal and traditional
form of marriage and family. Although age plays a fundamental role, as the eldest brother is normally dominant
in terms of managing the household, all brothers share the work and participate equally as sexual partners.
Tibetan males and females do not find anything unusual or scandalous, as Western society does, in sharing a
spouse and it is in fact a norm for the wife to treat all the brothers the same. Thus, kinship plays an important
role in this case for anthropologists as it examines the different cultural perspectives on types of marriage. In
our society, monogamy is the only form of accepted and custom marriage, whereas, Tibetan society allows a
variety of marriage types including monogamy, fraternal polyandry and polygyny. In India, almost all marriages are arranged. Parents are responsible for choosing a suitable match for
their child and often, the bride and groom do not meet each other prior to the marriage. In addition, young men
and women do not date and have very little social interaction involving members of the opposite sex. However,
in our society, these types of marriages are rare, as the custom of arranged marriages is found to be oppressive.
We are brought up in a society where ideas of individualism and romanticism exist, which lead us to believe
that romantic love and choice lead to a happy marriage. Indian societies, howeve